Wallet Audit: Which UK cards should you have for Avios, miles & points now Clubcard is not as good?

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I have had a few queries about this, but even if you don’t have a Tesco Clubcard credit card, it’s worth a read to check that you have the best cards for earning miles and points. Unlike most other sites, we don’t earn anything for referring credit cards so you will get my unbiased opinion. 

So at the moment, I have a lot of cards, Amex Gold, Amex BA Premium, Lloyds, Virgin and Capital on Tap. I don’t use my Lloyds card at all, it’s just there as a backup. I switch between my cards depending on whether they accept Amex or not. I would normally have an Amex Platinum but have downgraded while I am not travelling.

I will take a quick rundown of all the cards related to travel below, but first a quick look at what you need to decide before you chose. 

 

Choosing cards

pocket of credit cards

There are a couple of things you need to decide before you look at which card to chose. Obviously, whether you can afford it is one crucial question. I treat my credit cards as a debit card and pay off the balance every month by direct debit and I would strongly advise everyone else to do the same. 

Here are some things to consider:

  • Do I want a card that I can collect points that have multiple uses such as the ability to transfer into different airline or hotel schemes?
  • Do I want to stick to one particular airline as I know that usually I will book flights with them and gain plenty of extra miles that way?
  • Do I not care about the airline but have a particular holiday that I want to get miles/points for?
  • Do I need to use a non-Amex card for a lot of my spending?
  • Am I getting a card because I want the extra travel perks?
  • Do I want a big sign up bonus? If you have had a personal Amex in the last 24 months (excluding MBNA, Lloyds Bank, supplementary, and small business Amex cards), you will not qualify for many of the sign up offers for the other personal Amex. It’s pretty complicated depending on whether it is a Membership Rewards card or not. If it is important to get the bonus, make sure you read the fine print to check you qualify. 

The other thing I would say is, I would not rush into getting a paid card for travel perks right now unless you have imminent travel or there is an offer about to expire. 

 

The most flexible cards for hotels and airlines

Marriott Bonvoy

The Marriott card may not sound that flexible but there are plenty of programs you can transfer points into, despite the name.

  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 points bonus when you spend £3,000 in your first three months
  • Cost: Free for first year, £140 afterward
  • Benefits/Perks:15 Elite Night Credits to help achieve status
    • Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status which gives 10% more points on every eligible hotel purchase. Priority Late Checkout, a dedicated phone line for Elite members and the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee (not really worth having)
    • Earn Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status when you spend £15,000 in eligible purchases on your Card in an anniversary year.
    • One Free Night Award after you spend £25,000 in an anniversary year, redeemable for a one-night stay (redemption level at or under 25,000 points – pretty cheap hotels only) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy.
    • Earn 10 points from American Express for each £1 of eligible spend at Marriott properties. Offer ends March 31st 2021. Additional bonus earn rate is capped at 20,000 and subsequent to this limit being reached will revert to your standard earn rate.
    • Bonvoy points convert 3:1 to 44 airline miles schemes including Avios, Alaska, American, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Turkish, TAP and Virgin.
    • Transfer 60,000 Marriott points and get 20,000 airline miles + 5,000 bonus miles for all but 3 of the airlines.
  • Points per £1:6X Points at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy
    • 2X Points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Pros: Flexibility – the best range of airline schemes plus it’s fairly cheap. If you are a heavy Marriott user its is worth considering if you want to credit to airlines outside the Membership Rewards scheme
  • Cons: The earnings rate for airlines is less than for the other Amex cards for non-Marriott purchases. 

 

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard 

 IHG Rewards Club covers loyalty for hotels such as Crowne Plaza, InterContinental, Hotel Indigo, Kimpton, Regent and voco.

  • Sign-up bonus: 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points when you spend £200 within 90 days
  • Cost: Free
  • Benefits/Perks: Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club
    • Points count towards elite status
  • Points per £1: 1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1 spent
    • 2 points per £1 for spending in IHG Rewards Club properties OR 2 points per £1 for overseas spend
    • Points convert at 5:1 into Avios or other airline miles with 45 airline partners
  • Pros:Flexibility – a great range of airline schemes. Partners include BA, Alaskan, Virgin, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore and Cathay. 
    • If you have no hotel status it’s worth considering to get Gold in IHG though it doesn’t get you much. It could be useful for a status match though. 
    • It’s free.
  • Cons: The earnings rate for airlines is very poor and less than for the other Amex cards and the Marriott card.

 

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card

This is the one I currently have as I don’t see the point in paying for Platinum since the majority of the perks are of no use when I am not travelling. Many of the offers that you get with Amex Platinum in terms of the monthly offers for discounts and cashback on various purchases including most major hotels and some airlines, are also on the Gold Card. And it’s free for the first year.

Here are the basics:

  • Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points when you spend £3,000 within three months.
  • Cost: Free for first year, £140 afterward
  • Benefits/Perks:Amex Membership rewards which can convert into multiple partners (see below),
    • As an Amex Gold cardholder you receive free membership to Priority Pass, which has a large range of airport lounges worldwide. Each year you get two free lounge visits and can purchase extra visits for £20 each which is much cheaper than normal. 
    • 10,000 bonus points for spending £15,000 per year
    • 10% discount and free additional driver on Hertz bookings
    • A $100 hotel credit and an upgrade, if available, when you staying two nights or more at an Amex The Hotel Collection hotel. 
    • Spending offers for money off travel and non travel purchases potentially worth hundreds of pounds per year
  • Miles per £1:You get 1 Membership Reward point per £1
    • Plus 1 additional Membership Rewards point for every full £1 spent on flights, prepaid hotels, car hire, and activities on americanexpress.co.uk/travel.
    • Foreign currency transactions and airline purchases also get an extra 1 MR per £1 spent.
  • Pros: It’s free, it’s flexible and it has a couple of useful perks for travel. 
  • Cons:Not that many perks for £140 a year and if you don’t use the spending offers, you may be better off with the free card after the first year.
    • It’s not the best-earning rate for Avios or Virgin Points

The American Express® Rewards Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 5,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend £2,000 in your first three months
  • Cost: FREE
  • Benefits/Perks: Amex Global Assist®, Travel Accident Insurance
  • Miles/Points per £1: You get 1 Membership Reward point per £1 
  • Pros: It’s free and it’s flexible to transfer into multiple hotel and airline partners. If you are not travelling there are plenty of other ways to spend membership rewards. 
  • Cons: It’s not the best-earning rate for Avios or Virgin Points

 

American Express Membership Rewards – what are they for?

There are lots of different ways to use MR including using as cash off any purchase on your card. Here I will look at travel transfers partners:

Airlines transfer MR points at a 1:1 ratio. The options are:

  • Avios (BA or Iberia)
  • Alitalia 
  • Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
  • Delta
  • Etihad
  • Emirates
  • Finnair
  • Flying Blue
  • SAS
  • Singapore Airlines  
  • Virgin Atlantic 

For hotels, the transfer rates vary. Per 1 MR you get:

  • 3 Radisson Rewards points
  • 2 Hilton Honors points
  • 1.5 Mariott Bonvoy points

Plus you can transfer into Club Eurostar with 15 MR points to 1 Eurostar mile.

The beauty of MR is the flexibility so you are protected against airline devaluations, travel companies going bust or worrying about miles expiring if you don’t use them. I leave my points sitting in Amex until I decide I need to use them for something. 

 

The best for Avios and short-haul destinations

While you can use Virgin Points to book Air France and KLM short-haul flights, the route network and value for money is poor in comparison to Avios. 

Pure Avios cards that are not Amex are thin on the ground now. I will look at Amex first and then other options.

British Airways American Express Cards

There are 2 versions – a free one and a premium one (the Premium Plus) with a fee.

British Airways American Express® Premium Plus Card

  • Sign-up bonus: Collect 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend £3,000 in your first three months 
  • Cost: £195
  • Benefits/Perks: 2-4-1 voucher when you spend £10,000 within a year – one free Avios companion ticket but you need to pay taxes and charges for both. It’s valid for two years. 
    • Spending offers for money off travel and non travel purchases
  • Miles/Points per £1:1.5 Avios per £1 
    • 3 Avios per £1 spent on ba.com
  • Pros:Best overall earning for Avios points and good if you book a lot of flights through ba.com.
    • Also best for short haul redemptions if you don’t want to pay a lot of Avios or cash due to their Reward Flight Saver offer which offers reduced taxes for short haul.
    • Also Avios is one of the only ways to get flights almost free by paying £1 in taxes but more Avios.
  • Cons:Expensive per year and with low cost flights likely to be around for the next 12 months, vouchers are less valuable as most long haul tickets cost around £650 in taxes/charges per person in Club and First.
    • Not very flexible and you need to spend a lot to get the real benefit from the card which is the 2-4-1 voucher. You can read more about them here. 

British Airways American Express® Card

  • Sign-up bonus: Collect 5,000 bonus Avios when you spend £1,000 in your first three months 
  • Cost: Free
  • Benefits/Perks: 2-4-1 voucher when you spend £20,000 within a year – one free Avios companion ticket but you need to pay taxes and charges for both. It’s only valid for a year versus the paid card which is two. 
  • Miles/Points per £1:1 Avios per £1 (no ba.com bonus)
  • Pros: Free and a decent sign up bonus for a low spend. 
  • Cons:Not great earning rate.
    • Not very flexible and you need to spend a huge amount to get the real benefit from the card which is the 2-4-1 voucher. You can read more about them here. 

 

If you own a business, then one of the best options is the Capital on Tap card.

 Capital on Tap Business Rewards Credit Card

  • Sign-up bonus: 10,000 bonus points to redeem for £100 cashback or 10,000 Avios when you spend £5,000 on your card in your first 3 months
  • Cost: £99
  • Benefits/Perks: No FX or UK ATM charges
    • Up to 20 free supplementary cards
  • Miles/Points per £1: 1% cashback or 1 bonus point = Avios for every £1 of card spend
  • Pros:Not an Amex and relatively low charge for a decent return on Avios.
    • No FX fees is also useful for travel and can save a lot of money if you travel a lot
  • Cons: Only available for small businesses and credit limits can be quite stingy even after a long period with them.

 

If you are a high earner or HSBC customer the best option is

HSBC Premier World Elite Credit card

 

To get the card you need a HSBC Premier account which is pretty tricky to qualify for but if you can, or could qualify, it is worth considering. You need to

1) have savings or investments of at least £50,000 with HSBC in the UK; or
2) have an individual annual income of at least £75,000 and one of the following products with HSBC in the UK:

  • a mortgage;
  • an investment, life insurance or protection product;

Interestingly, there is no fee for the account itself, just the card.

Here are the card details:

  • Sign-up bonus: Receive 40,000 reward points when you spend £2,000 on your card in the first 90 days of card membership.
  • Cost: £195
  • Benefits/Perks:Complimentary airport lounge access with membership in the LoungeKey programme for main and supplementary cardholders
    • Complimentary global Wi-Fi access
    •  10% discount on selected hotels booked with your HSBC Premier World Elite Credit Card through Expedia or Agoda plus 12 months’ complimentary Expedia+ Gold Membership.
    • Mastercard Travel Rewards
  • Miles/Points per £1: 2 HSBC Premier Reward points if it’s in pounds or 4 HSBC Premier Reward points if it’s in non-Sterling currency. Every 2 points are worth the equivalent of 1 frequent flyer mile. 
  • Pros: Hard to qualify, expensive and average earning rate
  • Cons:Plenty of perks if you are a frequent traveller.
    • The lounge access is cheap compared to Amex Platinum if you don’t need the other Platinum benefits. 

 

The best for US/Caribbean long haul flights 

Virgin credit card

If you aren’t too worried about flying BA, the Virgin Atlantic credit card has some excellent perks as well as a very generous earning rate for a non Amex card. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the free one as the earning rate is so low, but here are the details on both. 

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

  • Sign-up bonus: 15,000 bonus points with your first card purchase within 90 days of opening your account when you spend £20,000 in a year. 0% for 6 months on balance and money transfers (you’ll pay a 3% fee).
  • Cost: £160
  • Benefits/Perks: an upgrade to Premium or a Companion ticket when you spend £10,000 in a year (taxes and fees still apply for both tickets) or Clubhouse.
  • Miles/Points per £1: 1.5 Virgin Points for every £1 you spend on everyday card purchases. And 3 points for every £1 you spend with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays. 
  • Pros:Great earning rate and the companion voucher or upgrade can be valuable. 
    • Also, as it’s not an Amex, it’s accepted pretty much everywhere.
    • Virgin now use points instead of miles that never expire.
    • The points can be used for a wide range of products as well as travel including transfers into Hilton or IHG.
    • Can be used on lots of airlines including a great value redemption for First on ANA plus Hawaiin, Delta, KLM, Air France, Singapore and Air New Zealand. 
  • Cons:Virgin miles availablity is often worse than BA.
Virgin Clubhouse heathrow review

Virgin Clubhouse Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

  • Sign-up bonus: 0% for 6 months on balance and money transfers (you’ll pay a 3% fee).
  • Cost: Free
  • Benefits/Perks: an upgrade to Premium or a Companion ticket when you spend £20,000 in a year (taxes and fees still apply for both tickets) or Clubhouse pass. 
  • Miles/Points per £1: 0.75 Virgin Points for every £1 you spend on everyday card purchases. And 1.5 points for every £1 you spend with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays. 
  • Pros:Cheap and good if you want to do a balance transfer. 
    • The points can be used for a wide range of products as well as travel including transfers into Hilton or IHG.
    • Can be used on lots of airlines including a great value redemption for First on ANA plus Hawaiin, Delta, KLM, Air France, Singapore and Air New Zealand. 
  • Cons:Low earning rate and hard to spend enough to get the bonus.
    • Virgin miles availablity is often worse than BA.
    • Some of the rewards are status and class dependant. 

 

The best for travel perks

American Express The Platinum Card

Platinum amex offers

  • Sign-up bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend £4,000 in your first three months
  • Cost: £575
  • Benefits/Perks:Amex Membership rewards which can convert into multiple partners (see above),
    • Complimentary access to over 1,200 airport lounges across more than 130 countries worldwide with Priority Pass for you and a guest
    • Amex Centurion lounge access (mainly in US but growing worldwide)
    • Access to Plaza Premium lounge T5
    • Eurostar lounge access in London, Brussels and Paris
    • Hilton Gold status
    • Melia Gold Status
    • Radisson Gold status
    • Marriott Bonvoy Gold status
    • Access to FHR hotels which give similar perks to Virtuoso but with more guaranteed. Perks include upgrades, late check out and $100 credit. 
    • Complimentary Supplementary Cards – the first one gives the same travel perks
    • Comprehensive worldwide travel insurance for you, your family and your Supplementary Cardmembers. (often does not include existing conditions)
    • Comprehensive car hire insurance
    • Platinum Concierge
    • £10 per month of Addison Lee taxi credit
    • $200 cashback on every onefinestay home rental – available unlimited times, no minimum spend
    • Multiple spend offers per month on everything from hotels and airlines to drinks and beauty products
  • Miles per £1:You get 1 Membership Reward point per £1
  • Pros: You can easily get your money back on the fee if you use all the spending offers.
    • The perks are the best in the market and can also save a lot on insurance and hotel breakfast or lounge access.
  • Cons:It’s very expensive and if you won’t use the travel perks or the spending bonuses, the Gold card is better.
    • It’s not the best-earning rate for Avios or Virgin Points
Plaza Premium lounge Heathrow Terminal 5

Plaza Premium lounge Heathrow Terminal 5

Disclaimer: Turning Left for Less is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be taken as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any credit card is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based only on the ability to earn miles and points or get travel perks and do not consider any financial considerations beyond the basic fee for the card. 

5 Comments on "Wallet Audit: Which UK cards should you have for Avios, miles & points now Clubcard is not as good?"

  1. I had thought that IHG was free full stop…….or are there two versions like Virgin cards?

  2. If you have a Tesco debit card and spend at Tesco’s it still offers a great transfer rate into virgin flying club when used with your clubcard. 5 points per £1 spend on shopping

  3. No mention of Miles & More card?

    • It was more focused on Avios replacements but yes the Miles and More Card is also worth a mention.

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